Manly legend Graham Eadie has emerged revitalised from a monumental eight-hour open heart surgery operation in May where his life was in the balance.
And while he has his up and down days in recovery, Eadie told NRL.com that “it’s always a good day when Manly win”.
The 65-year-old four-time premiership winner hopes his inspirational road to recovery against the odds can be a massive lift as the depleted Sea Eagles host fierce rivals Cronulla on Saturday night in an elimination final.
Eadie, who was man of the match in Manly's 16-0 win over the Sharks in the 1978 grand final replay, insists Des Hasler’s men can prevail.
He knows all about beating the odds after his hospital ordeal in Brisbane where he said he was "basically frozen for 20 minutes" during a delicate procedure.
Every year the former Manly fullback has a heart health check at hospital and last year the doctor delivered disturbing news.
"He said I had a five-centimetre aneurism on my aorta. Not being in the medical side of things I went home to my wife Leah, who is a nurse, and she said 'that’s not good'," Eadie said.
"The doctor said that when it got to 5.5 centimetres they would operate."
This year Eadie - a member of the NRL Hall of Fame - bumped into Marty Gurr, who inherited his fullback mantle at Manly in the 1980s.
Gurr thought Eadie didn’t look well.
"He rang my wife and asked her to send through the tests I’d had done because his brother-in-law is an anaesthetist for Dr Bruce Garlick who is the best heart surgeon in Queensland," Eadie said.
"I rang Marty’s brother-in-law and he said what the doctor had told me was true, but then he said, 'you are better off making the operating table than not making the table'.”
After meeting Dr Garlick he was booked in immediately for surgery at St Andrew's War Memorial Hospital in Brisbane.
"He opened me up and found heart disease right where he wanted to operate so they had to freeze me," Eadie said.
"He had to turn the heart-lung machine off and stop the blood going through my body.
"They had a 20-minute window to clean all this heart disease out otherwise I wasn’t going to be here anymore, and got it done in 16 minutes.
"I had an eight-hour operation and I was in intensive care for seven days afterwards. They put a stainless steel aorta in and stitched me up with chicken wire.
"It was supposed to be a four-hour operation and when Dr Garlick had finished he rang my wife and said, 'I think I’ve got him. He might come out of this. We just have to wait and see'.
"I still have a few little problems but I am getting better all the time. I’ve been dieting for a while but when I went up and saw Dr Garlick in the last couple of weeks he said, 'Graham, that is the biggest operation on a heart, what I did on you'.
"I count every day as a blessing now and I am just so grateful I had Bruce as a surgeon."
There were complications while Eadie was in hospital in recovery.
"I had what they call a heart fade and split my head and broke my nose," Eadie chuckled.
"The doc asked how many times I had broken my nose and I reckoned about 10 times, but when they did the scan they picked up 13 breaks in my nose or just above my nose."
"I asked Bruce whether my fall had done any damage to what they had done inside me and he said, 'No, we’ve used chicken wire but for you we’ve used very good chicken wire'. I said 'what about going through security at the airport?' and he said ''it is too deep inside you for security to pick up'.”
In a remarkable piece of symmetry, the eight hours Eadie endured on the operating table was also the exact amount of football he played in the 1978 finals series where the Sea Eagles played six games in 24 days to win the title.
There was also a semi-final replay against the Eels on top of the grand final replay against the Sharks.
The fact that Manly's opponent on Saturday is Cronulla has buoyed Eadie.
"That is a positive because playing Cronulla there is always a bit of animosity after we beat them in the 1973 and 1978 grand final. They lift and we also lift," Eadie said.
Sea Eagles v Sharks - Elimination Final
"Manly have injuries and are up against it, but I remember in the 1978 replay Terry Randall had about four needles in his shoulders, calves and legs. It was inspirational for us to see what he was prepared to do for his team-mates."
After the 11-all draw in the initial grand final back in 1978 , Eadie recalled how coach Frank Stanton got the players together at Manly Leagues Club on the Monday, the day before the replay.
"Frank introduced us to a major from the army who talked about going up the mountain, taking the mountain and going down the other side," Eadie recalled.
"He said, 'You blokes have gone up and are at the top of the mountain, now you’ve just go to come down the other side and take the territory'. I walked out of there thinking 'How good is this. We are halfway there'.
"I would say to the players today, 'You have made it this far. You are halfway there and you’ve just got to take the territory'."
Finals Snapshot: Sea Eagles
When NRL.com spoke to Eadie this week he was in Sydney visiting his 91-year-old dad Col, who has had a massive influence on his life and career including green-lighting his initial decision to choose Manly over St George when he was starting his career.
Eadie will fly back to the Gold Coast on Saturday and will watch Manly's elimination final at home.
The love for the man affectionately known as 'Wombat' endures in the rugby league community and well beyond.
The way his many supporters have rallied around him in his time of need, including those at Halifax in England where he finished his career, has inspired Eadie to embrace whatever is ahead of him with strength.
"The people have got me through," Eadie said.
"The people at Manly, who held a benefit for me. The people of Men of League. The people where I used to work at Billinudgel Hotel, who held a benefit for me. The people at Halifax - they made a T-shirt that had a wombat on the back. Halifax people still talk to me on Facebook.
"You do something for people and in return they do something for you. I was down, and the people have picked me up."